Former Apple TV Engineer: Steve Jobs nixed the new Apple TV UI five years ago

“Former Apple TV UI designer and ‘Professional Hobbyist, Apple TV’ Michael Margolis went vocal on Twitter about the new Apple TV redesign last night,” Seth Weintraub reports for 9to5Mac.

“He says that Steve Jobs himself tossed out the new designs 5 years ago,” Weintraub reports. “He adds, ‘Now there is nobody to say ‘no’ to bad design.'”

“Apple is widely expected to release a full Apple HD product in the coming year,” Weintraub writes. “Steve Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he’d cracked the code to the TV but it doesn’t appear that Apple has yet implemented that vision.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We agree. The Apple TV UI is not as intuitive as it could be and, in some respects, may be a step backwards from the previous UI. When we find ourselves being confused enough to notice while using an Apple product, something is wrong. It’s not a horrid UI, just a little off, but it’s off enough to notice. At first we thought it was just us or maybe we simply hadn’t spent enough time with it yet, but after reading this and some other things around the web, we see that we’re not alone.

Obviously, Jobs tested these products personally and they had to pass a very high level of muster. Hopefully, this is just a one time bobble and not a sign that Apple is already missing Jobs’ taste and ability to discern what’s really easy-to-use from what merely looks like it should be at first glance.

As Apple shareholders, we don’t know whether to shudder or shrug.

When it comes to usability, asking “What would Steve do?” should never be discouraged. And, if this report is true: Never, ever take something Steve Jobs once called “shit,” and then release it. If this report is not true, the latest Apple TV UI is not as intuitive as it could be. It needs work.

Be a yardstick of quality. – Steve Jobs

Be very, very careful here, Apple. Do not think like engineers. Never assume. Never say to yourself, “well, people should be able to figure this out.” If you do, you’re screwing up in Microsoftian fashion. Make damn sure there is no question. When it comes to UI, think like end-users. Focus!

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. – Steve Jobs

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “Dow Chambless” for the heads up.]


      1. I think “disposableidentity” was saying that everyone calls MDN “fanboys,” but here we clearly see them criticizing Apple. I believe it was meant as sarcasm (see smiley), not for you to agree with, but I could be wrong. I may be infallible, but I’m not the greatest mindreader.

        1. Comedy was my intention. MDN is often the first to criticize Apple when they deserve it. But they’re constantly labeled fanboys for celebrating the stuff Apple genuinely deserves credit for.

          1. I’d go so far as to define and Apple ‘fanboy’ as a discerning tech buyer and fanatic. I’ve almost always found We The Fanboys to be the FIRST to criticize Apple when they’ve pulled a serious blunder.

            You don’t see much of that on the MS fanboy side of the world. I’d sooner expect MS fanboys to make little squeeky noises than to hear them offer criticism of MS crapware.

        1. I don’t think so, to be perfectly frank AppleTV really is dreadful.
          One example: No on/off switch. From anywhere in the UI it still takes at least 7 clicks to get to ‘Sleep Now’ to turn the thing off. Wake it back and -bizarrely- you’re still at the ‘Sleep Now’ menu item. I don’t care who did it, that’s just not good design.
          The new UI is marginally improved, but only marginally.
          I sincerely hope that the AppleTV ‘hobby’ turns serious soon.
          TV needs a shake up.

          1. Your complaint is only one of ignorance: to put the Apple TV to sleep, simply press and hold Select (the big round center button) for five seconds.

            I, for one, LOVE the new interface and think it is a BIG improvement over the old one. It used to take MANY more click for me to get to internet radio than it does now.

            Is it perfect? Probably not. But it’s WAY better than before.

    1. Speaking of fans, IIRC, when Jobs left Apple the first time, one of the immediate changes to Apple hardware was the addition of cooling fans. Steve always insisted on figuring out the thermodynamics as part of the design solution, rather than just tossing in a bigger blower.

      When the cat’s away, and all that. Maybe working at Apple just got a whole lot easier.

    1. *sigh*

      Shame on you, MDN, for perpetuating the “Apple will collapse without Steve Jobs” myth here.

      Steve was not infallible. He never wanted iTunes on Windows, for instance. And not everything released under his watch was “insanely great”. Remember how much you whined about MobileMe? The removal of Apple’s server-oriented products?

      Seems you’re just trying to jump on the bandwagon. I’m pretty sure the folks in charge at Apple know what they’re doing, and don’t need advice from some internet blog on how to run things.

      1. The UI of the TV is crap. That doesn’t mean Apple will collapse. It simply means the UI is crap.

        Apple can do better, especially when it comes to their forte – UI. For example certain aspects of Lion are crap – Launch Pad, Address Book, and Mission Control come to mind. Perhaps SJ had a hand in their development, perhaps not. Nonetheless the UI in those apps are crap. End of story.

        1. Followup:

          Most of the AppleTV UI remains unchanged since AppleTV “Take 2” and I think that’s a testament to how good it was. Great design is timeless.

          The new UI shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. There is a clear effort at Apple to make everything match the look and feel of their popular iOS products – starting with Lion and increasing momentum with Mountain Lion.

          To be clear – [Steve Jobs] didn’t like the original grid. This was before the iPhone was popular and before the iPad even existed.

          Given that the iPad is far more successful than the AppleTV, migrating the AppleTV to look more like the iPad was probably a very smart move – even if some of the users of the old UI don’t prefer the new one.

          And now you know… the rest of the story. 😉

  1. The problem with the Apple TV version is the same as the iPhone version the grid of icons doesn’t scale well. The more features and sources you add the more complex it becomes to navigate. Additionally, the existing remote with its D-pad interaction surface doesn’t map well out side the rudimentary cruciform navigation. It requires too many clicks to accomplish many tasks especially frequent ones buried several menus deep.

    I love the results but even turning on and switching inputs makes selecting the Apple TV too conscious a choice. If they want to have a chance they need to automate the process or learn the users habits and bing those action to the forefront of the UI.

    The rumored universal remote sounds interesting though. Add some macros with voice prompts and you’re in business.

  2. MDN wobbles like a 3 legged chair. Just a few days ago when everyone was extolling the virtues of the new Apple TV interface they agreed…. Now that someone makes another somewhat supported point, they have decided Apple m
    Needs to be warned….Steve did not always make the right call and was not infallible….his decisions concerning his health care is a case in point…and I could take issue with many of the deisign decisions Steve made…he is GONE….get over it and quit second guessing Apples executives choices & decisions …only time will tell if Apple can continue its run without Steve…..

    1. The existing navigation scheme is fine for the limited services currently offered by Apple TV. But if they intend to add more functionality they will need to rethink a simple way of accessing common actions be it speech, gestures, or eye tracking.

      1. I disagree. My two-and-a-half year old son could not use the previous iteration of the Apple TV to get to Netflix and find his shows. He can with the new one. While the Netflix interface was updated prior to the primary Apple TV UI overhaul, he still couldn’t navigate the main menu to Netflix and get his shows. The new UI may have some drawbacks, as did the old. However, I think that the new UI is a much better design from the standpoint of users unfamiliar with technology. ESPECIALLY those coming from iPad or iPhone or with a language barrier (wherein a predominantly textual interface would stand in the way).

    2. MDN does the same with the NY Times. Agree? Great! Disagree? You’re the NY Slimes.

      They do the same with other news sources.

      The only one they seem not to disagree with is Rush Limbaug.

  3. Well, I agree that it won’t scale well and doesn’t look tremendous, but the old ATV UI, that Steve approved, scaled and looked even worse.

    I also don’t understand MDN’s take that it’s hard to use in some way. It’s about as simple and straightforward as possible.

    Steve made mistakes and his taste was not perfect. He liked some things that were “shit” and disliked some things that were actually “insanely great”. He himself realized this at times.

    Anyways, the new UI is not amazing, for sure, but it’s way better then the older UI.

  4. More importantly it completely killed home sharing and air play/mirroring. I can get maybe five minutes before the connection is lost and everything has to be reset to pick it back up again.

    1. Ditto. The new iOS update to our AppleTV 2 has caused it to crash and reboot itself quite often. The new home screen is a kludge, as well as the transport navigation: can’t scan fwd/rev from pause state, WTF?!! This product needs more Steve, not less. Just Say NO to Bad Design!

  5. They are not done yet. You will see a new Remote iOS app hit that will allow you to chose the App/Channel on your Apple TV. If more icons are to populate the screen, like shortcuts to shows and the like, how could you navigate with out this new setup.

    Steve Jobs was a visionary genius, but he also made bad call, just look at the hockey puck mouse that shipped with the first incarnation of the iMac. It was terrible!

  6. It’s about time somebody noticed the mediocrity of the new UI on the Apple TV. Who at Apple now has the taste and authority to demand excellent user interface–PHIL? Pshaw!! That guy can’t even dress himself. I LOVE Apple, but while it won’t fall apart under the “Operations Guy” Tim Cook, it will inexorably slide downward several notches to making “so so” products. Not because they WANT it to slide, but because they’re all normal execs who only seemed like amazing execs when they were led by Steve Jobs. It may take a couple of years for it to become clear to everyone, and Apple will continue to grow for a while. But there won’t be another category-busting new product after the Apple-TV, which assumes they won’t screw up that one.

    1. If Steve left them the information on how he cracked TV, then there likely will be at least one more category-busting new product.

      I have a feeling there are people at Apple who will carry on Steve’s legacy very well. A vaguely sub-par UI on a “hobby” product that may well be just a stopgap isn’t that worrying to me.

      (Brought to you by Carl’s Jr.)

      1. I said there wouldn’t be another category-busting product AFTER Apple TV; in other words, that would be the last one, assuming they don’t screw it up (50% chance, unless Steve left it COMPLETELY finished).
        Who are these people left at Apple who will carry own Steve’s legacy?? They don’t have the authority to do it unless one of them is the CEO. And it’s not only about wanting to do it, it’s about the CEO having the taste and the vision to ensure the rest of the organization does it. Tim Cook has many talents in keeping the trains running on time. He’s also made some smart decisions regarding dividends and pushing harder into the enterprise since Steve passed, both of which are probably different from what SJ would have done. So Tim is smart and saw some of the great man’s limitations. But in a PRODUCTS company, those are small potatoes–what matters is making amazing products, and you need vision and taste to do that. There is NO evidence, at least so far, that Tim has either of those. If he’s wise enough to know that, he may limit the damage for a while. But there is absolutely no way to compensate for that. Just look at all the other corporations that Apple passed by in the last decade. Not all of them had doofuses as CEOs but, under Jobs, Apple made them all look like they were led by idiots. Our only realistic hope is that Apple only declines to a “B” grade company under Tim from an “A-” company under Jobs, instead of the more typical “C” grade company that dots the landscape. That would be a huge accomplishment by Tim.

        1. Relax, Janice. “Apple TV” is a current product. The very one we’re discussing here. You meant the “Apple television” or “Apple iTV” or some other way to distinguish a new product from a currently shipping product.

          If you can see why your original post is confusing and would therefore like to apologize for your on-the-rag bitchiness, we can continue to converse. Otherwise, we’re done.

          (Brought to you by Carl’s Jr.)

  7. Yes, it could be improved. It’s not ‘microsoftish’ (thank goodness) but it’s not up to Apple’s usual standards and usability. There are several other Apple missteps in some common applications (to me).

    Something as simple and frequently accessed like Address Book could be much more intuitive. I have many mailing lists and, for example, would like to see when a name is searched for, which lists it is on at one time (highlight, graphic character, different color…something). The new iteration of Address Book seems a step backward with regard to the interface.

    iPhoto’s use of tools and how they display on screen is also awkward. Why aren’t all the tools visible in one panel, not two?

    Aperture (to me) has it’s clunky aspects, too. Even iPhoto is more intuitive with how it presents itself to the user.

    Apple DOES listen and several of my suggestions (and certainly the same suggestions from hundreds of others, too) have made it into use. WE, too have adopted Apple’s expectation of standards and by such postings can help Apple improve things.

    There’s more but that’s for another posting.

  8. ““Former Apple TV UI designer and ‘Professional Hobbyist, Apple TV’ Michael Margolis ”


    i think ‘FORMER’ is the key word here. He’s probably just disgruntled because Steve Jobs didn’t like one of his designs and is taking it out on the new UI.

    I HIGHLY DOUBT that Apple would be using a five year old UI design that Steve Jobs once said no to.

      1. Possible, but again, doesn’t seem likely. There were more people involved in UI design than just Steve Jobs. Seems highly unlikely that they all decide to release something he didn’t like now that he’s gone.

        1. I think its just similar to something he remembers Steve Jobs saying was shit.

          Steve wasn’t always right and maybe they’ll improve it into something insanely great.

  9. It could be Apples intention on making this AppleTV a little less sophisticated so as to make the anticipated AppleTV set even more amazing.

    Remember how Apple worked with Motorola before the iPhone came out?

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